Game Recap: Bulls 121, Kings 115

The good news?

The Bulls finally returned home after a nine-game road trip — the team’s longest since the 1992-93 season — and gutted out a victory that gave them a league-best 24 wins and earned Tom Thibodeau the chance to coach the 2012 Eastern Conference All-Star team.

The bad news?

The Bulls’ defense apparently took the night off and almost let the Kings crawl out of a 19-point fourth quarter hole. It was shades of 2009, when the Sactowners erased a 35-point deficit to pull off an historic 102-98 in the United Center.

Fortunately, this Bulls squad only let the Kings get to within two points (117-115) with 14 seconds left. From that point, Kyle Korver and Luol Deng closed things out at the free throw line.

That was a little too close for comfort, even without Derrick Rose.

In the NBA, the first game back home after an extended road trip is a notorious trap game. And the Bulls nearly fell into that trap head first. The offense was clicking — Chicago finished with 121 points on 52.4 percent shooting and racked up 33 assists on 44 made field goals — but the defense this team is known for was last seen in Charlotte. Current whereabouts: Unknown.

One game after giving up 33 fast break points to a Celtics team most frequently referred to as “aging,” the Bulls were shelled by the Kings, DeMarcus Cousins (28 points, 10-for-20, 17 rebounds), Tyreke Evans (27 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists), and Marcus Thornton (23 points) in particular. The Kings scored 17 fast break points and ended up with 54 points in the paint. They also grabbed 17 offensive boards and earned 28 free throw attempts.

And a season-high 115 points surrendered? On average, Bulls opponents are scoring a meager 84.1 PPG in Chicago. And the Kings are averaging only 89.4 outside of Sacramento.

What in the name of Stormin’ Norm Van Lier is going on here?

Said Deng: “I just think with their pick and roll we didn’t do a good job of just coming in and the guards helping out. We were too spread out. Normally when we play we kind of pack in in the paint. The last two games, we’re not really happy with our defense. We’ve got to get back to that.”

Added Joakim Noah: “Our defense has been mediocre at best the last two games. So there’s a lot of things we’ve got to clean up.”

Yeah. Some defense would be nice. Especially if Rose continues to sit out with his bad back.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. After a rough outing in Boston, Deng played like the All-Star he is. He didn’t shoot particularly well (6-for-17), but he went 9-for-9 from the line, finishing with 23 points and a career-high 11 assists. Joakim Noah had a fantastic game (22 points, 7-for-11, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 assists), although he finished with a plus-minus score of -10. Korver blew up for 18 points off the bench while shooting 5-for-7 from the field and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. Taj Gibson (15 points on 7-for-8 shooting) was dynamite on offense and John Lucas III finally finished with more assists (9) than shot attempts (8).

But the defensive effort? I’d say it was terrible if there’d been one.

Still, a win is a win, especially with Rose and Richard Hamilton still out. Especially when 20 of the team’s 31 games have been on the road. Especially with the lockout-shortened schedule.

Said Thibs: “We’ll take ’em any way we can get ’em. We found a way to win and over the course of the season, you have to win in different ways. Obviously our defense needs a lot of work but overall I am pleased with the win.”

The “any win is a good win” philosophy is comforting. But then you see the Miami Heat finishing off their back-to-back-to-back stretch with a 105-90 win in Indiana, and you can’t help but feel a sense of dread. The Heat seem to be getting stronger. The Bulls — largely due to Rose’s injury — seem to be getting weaker.

That could change if the team’s starting backcourt returns. But there’s no clue as to when that could be. Rose is still day-to-day. Ditto for Rip Hamilton (right thigh and groin), who at least rejoined the team following the death of his grandmother.

As they say: It is what it is.

Said Deng: “I think the best thing you can do is try to get better from it. If we had a choice, we wouldn’t want [Rose] to be hurt, but that’s the situation. We really think that it will help us. Guys are stepping up. Guys are getting playing time. We’d rather have this problem now than later in the year.”

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